Starting off the morning getting caught in Cape Town Cycle Tour traffic in Stellenbosch does not bode well for the rest of the day.
Or so I thought. It turned out to be another invigorating day filled with physical labour and hands on learning in the vineyards. Though, it turned out to be a day run on zero caffeine…which was the only, and mild, downside to the experience.
After all my apologies, I watched as the Chardonnay and Chenin from the previous week’s processing were checked in their tanks. It turns out the ferment was running a little slower than expected, and I learned that oxygenating the wine was a hopeful solution…helping to feed the wild yeasts that were plentiful in a shared cellar space…and prevent a stuck fermentation without the use of inoculation.
Still bemusing to me, the lees from the white wines was added to an empty tank destined for the day’s Shiraz/Syrah (it’s funny how many times I switch between these names on a daily basis!) harvest. Lees equals nutrients…it sounds like yeast isn’t fussy about the colour of the grape.
Then off we missioned to collect the first load of Syrah from a hidden vineyard. Loading lugboxes semi filled with grapes was fun at first…and then less fun as my tender fingers accustomed to decades of drawing and playing the piano tried to make up for my lack of physical strength. There was a moment where it made more sense for me to jump into the back of the bakkie to stack the additional crates…let’s just say that, there and then, I endeavoured to never be kidnapped. I don’t do well in a hotbox under the Stellenbosch sun. There may or may not be a photo of me hitching a ride on the back of the cutest tractor. At this point of the day, a piece of machinery was looking far cuter than I. Somehow the delightful vineyard owner managed to get me to reveal that I was wearing a full face of makeup to a harvest. Guess who became the butt of a few mascara jokes that day.
Back to the winery where the first lugboxes filled with Syrah were crushed and pumped into the waiting tank. My sole job (see previous mention of little to no upper body strength) relegated me to stacking and rinsing the emptied crates. Even the empty crates had me dripping in sweat. But, after our recent drought, it was kinda fun playing with a high pressure hose. Those of you who know me might be wondering how my hair dealt with the heat and humidity and sweat and water…it didn’t! But a fashionable scarf hid my struggle. We reloaded the empty crates and headed back to the vineyard for the second pick up.
Each trip between the vineyard and the winery was an opportunity to get to know Carsten. He’s the loveliest. And a refreshingly communicative male. We ran the gamut of topics – from vineyard improvement to how he met his wife, efficiency in the winery through to his precious dog’s crazy antics. Shout out to Roxy for winning my heart!
Stellenbosch is a beautiful place where cars actually stop at pedestrian crossings, and the people are so much friendlier than in Cape Town. But it’s even more lekker during harvest. Cars flashing their lights to let you know that your trailer gate has swung open…smaller vehicles and lighter loads giving way for your fuller load…and everyone waves and greets as they pass each other on the dusty side roads. En route back to the winery with the second load, a bakkie was turning into the dirt road and waited for us to get clear. I chirped a cheeky ‘who dis’ at the unmarked bakkie loaded with empty crates. And as we began the obligatory greetings, I recognised Jacques de Klerk. He jumped out of his vehicle to have a short chat with us on the corner of the dirt road. He remembered my name…which is crazy seeing as we’ve only hung out twice before. I don’t think I’ve ever felt cooler…if you ignore the ridiculous grin on my dust covered sweaty face.
As we left, I learned that winemakers don’t often get the chance to hang out together despite often seeing each other at wine industry events…they’re always working. But once a year they look forward to getting together at the Vintners Surf Classic in Stilbaai where they have the chance to relax and catchup without any industry talk. I’ve seen some pics, and it looks amazeballs. Pity I don’t surf…and cannot bear the cold…oh, and I’m not a vintner!
We processed the second load…and by processed, I obviously mean that I stacked and rinsed lug boxes. How the mighty creative has fallen. But that scarf was holding on and I can truly vouch for L’Oréal Telescopic Lashes…not even a hint of smudge despite dripping all day. But this isn’t an ode to makeup that will stand up under extreme heat – the beauty blogging world has this topic covered.
12 462 steps? I’m sure my step counter got fried by the sun. This was, by far, the the hardest day in the vineyards. But every one of those steps was fun and rewarding.
It turns out that this was to be my last day in the cellar. Covid-19 put an end to any further fun in the winelands. Which was probably a good thing because I was on the verge of moving to Stellenbosch and begging for a job that would allow me to learn more about winemaking. We ended on a high. Seeing a glimpse of how a smaller vineyard operates. Being privy to discussions about future vineyard improvements for the next growing season. Strolling through the laden vines and then driving the freshly picked fruits to be processed immediately. Freaking awesome!
Carsten never once asked me why I wanted to run around shadowing him – he’s far too polite for prying questions. Though, a few other people were curious about what I was doing there. So what was all of this harvest adventuring about? WSET level 4 is an expensive course…particularly for someone who doesn’t work in the wine industry and is just a knowledge hungry (thirsty?) consumer. If I had the funds, I’d sign up immediately. But I don’t…so I’m spending this year immersing myself in as much of the wine experience as possible. Perhaps the R90k fee would be better spent starting a viticulture degree. It could certainly cover a wonderful adventure to different wine regions that I can experience outside of a textbook. It would absolutely fund a fuck ton of great wine!
Maybe this year I’m also diving in and exploring whether there’s a place for me in the wine business….anyone in the industry need a xenial assistant with zero upper body strength but a passion for wine studies? I’m thinking of adding judicious use of spittoons to my CV…that’s a pretty big step considering where I started!
Speaking of steps, a total of 51 935 steps were walked during these 4 days spent with Migliarina wines. Steps that have taught me about generous and kind winemakers. Steps that opened my eyes to how the textbook is incredibly limited. Steps that have confirmed that I truly love viticulture and viniculture (even more so than the resultant wines…but the wines are a bonus reward). And steps that are seeing me retire my beloved Converse.
I don’t know if I’ll ever find a place in the wine world. But I do know that I will be begging to help out at next year’s harvest in 2021. And investing in a pair of harder wearing, waterproof work boots.